Revealed: Condoleezza Rice prevented NY Times from publishing CIA scoop

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.(Reuters / Joe Skipper)

While serving as secretary of state under President George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice called upon the New York Times and asked the paper to not report on a story, a former editor now says.

Jill Abramson, who served as executive editor of the Times from 2011 through earlier this year, told CBS News’ 60 Minutes television program that she was summoned to an undisclosed location by Rice during the Bush administration and asked to stop Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James Risen from finishing an article concerning a CIA effort to disrupt Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

According to the interview with 60 Minutes, Abramson said Rice “barely looked up” during the meeting and instead “read in a very stern manner” from a legal pad that was described by the editor as containing “just point after point about why this story would be damaging to the national security.”

I felt a bit surreal,” Abramson recalled. “Her bottom line … was to make sure that Jim cease all reporting on this story, which was really an extraordinary request.”

I regret it now, but I think that I leaned towards not publishing,” Abramson said. “It seemed, in the calculus of all of the major stories we were dealing with at that point, not worth it to me and I regret that decision now. I regret that I did not back a great reporter, Jim Risen, who I’ve worked with and who then worked for me and whose work I knew was solid as a rock.”

Although the Times ultimately killed Risen’s article, the journalist pursued the story nonetheless and wrote about it in his 2006 book “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.” In 2010, CIA employee Jeffrey Sterling was indicted under the Espionage Act of 1917 and accused of unlawfully communicating to Risen secrets about an effort undertaken by the agency concerning the nuclear program of Iran included in the book. Risen is now facing potential jail time for refusing for years to testify with regards to the source of his reporting.

Basically, the choice the government’s given me is: give up everything I believe or go to jail. So, I’m not going to talk,” Risen told CBS News recently.

The debate over whether Risen should be compelled to speak has recently generated a new wave of media coverage more than a decade after the journalist is accused of first speaking with Sterling: last week, former CIA head Michael Hayden told 60 Minutes that he was “conflicted” over whether Risen should be prosecuted

I know the damage that is done. And I do. But I also know the free press necessity in a free society,” Hayden said. “And it actually might be that I think, ‘No, he’s wrong. That was a mistake. That was a terrible thing to do. America will suffer because of that story.’ But then I have to think about, so how do I redress that? And if the method of redressing that actually harms the broad freedom of the press, that’s still wrong.”

According to Politco reporter Josh Gerstein, “Abramson’s stance could help bolster Risen’s argument that the information was newsworthy, particularly as concern about Iran’s nuclear program ramped up in the past decade.” Abramson joined the New York Times in 1997, became Washington, DC bureau chief in 2000 and was removed from her position as executive editor this past May after three-and-a-half years in that role.